Bed-wetting, or involuntary nighttime urination, is a common occurrence for many children. It’s often simply a developmental stage, though an embarrassing one. It is most common for children under the age of 6 or 7, and most will outgrow it beyond this age. Between ages 8 and 11, fewer than 5% of children continue to have a problem with bed-wetting. It’s generally not a cause for concern because nighttime bladder control may not yet be established.
It’s not clear what causes bed-wetting, but there may be various factors, including a small bladder, inability to recognize a full bladder, hormonal imbalance, stress, sleep apnea, chronic constipation, urinary tract infection, diabetes, or in rare cases an anatomical defect in the neurological or urinary system. Most children outgrow bed-wetting on their own. However, for more difficult cases, treatment may include using moisture alarms, bladder training, or if all else fails, medications.
Of course, many parents are not comfortable with the use of medications for their children. This is where Chinese medicine (TCM) can help. Children are not miniature adults, but have their own special health considerations. Their anatomy and physiology are immature, so treatments used for adults may not be appropriate for a child’s delicate system. Also, because children are generally quite healthy and quick to heal, they respond very quickly to treatment and require lighter treatment than adults. When using acupuncture, this means fewer points, gentler treatment, and fewer sessions to resolve the problem. Also, simple home remedies such as acupressure and diet or lifestyle changes may be enough to resolve the issue.
In Chinese medicine, bed-wetting is mainly due to the immaturity of the kidneys. Because the kidneys are responsible for urination and the bladder’s retention, it follows that a child’s not yet fully developed kidneys may lead to urinary problems. If bed-wetting is due to weak kidneys, it will involve nighttime enuresis of 1, 2 or more times per night, clear urination, pale complexion, lower back or knee soreness or weakness, and possibly cold limbs and an aversion to cold. Bed-wetting may also be due to a weakness in the spleen and lung organ-meridians, in which case the symptoms will involve nighttime enuresis, shortness of breath, white face, weak appetite, loose stools, spontaneous perspiration, lack of strength, and a dispirited nature.
Treatment for bed-wetting is straightforward once the correct cause is determined. Acupuncture can help to strengthen the organs and correct imbalances. But how do you know if acupuncture is appropriate for your child? I always ask parents to discuss acupuncture with their child beforehand, to find out if the child is open to trying it. With their naturally curious nature, most children find the experience to be very positive and do very well in treatment. However, if there is any fear or apprehension, it’s best to leave the idea of acupuncture alone, at least for the time being. With children or with adults, it’s no fun for either patient or practitioner if the person does not want to be there in the first place!
There are simple habits that can be performed at home to help resolve bed-wetting. Patience and understanding are essential, as fear or stress will only further damage the kidneys and aggravate the problem. Avoiding drinking too much in the evening and emptying the bladder before bed is good prevention. Also, the child should not be allowed to become too fatigued before going to bed, as overfatigue can further weaken the kidneys, spleen and lungs. Lastly, a healthy diet without too many rich, greasy, spicy or strong flavours and avoiding chilled or cold food and too much sugar and sweets can also help to strengthen these organs.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.